Civil Service failing to stop antisemitism, Jewish staff say

Jewish employees say they have lost confidence in the trade union representing them, the PCS


The majority of Jewish civil servants who responded to a survey fear their departments would not properly investigate instances of antisemitism (Photo: Getty)

Two-thirds of Jewish civil servants do not feel confident that their departments would investigate or punish workplace antisemitism, while two in five said they had experienced or witnessed such behaviour at work, a Civil Service survey shows.

Those polled also said they believed that “antisemitic comments or ideas would not be recognised as such” by their colleagues, according to a survey published last week monthly newsletter by the Civil Service Jewish Network (JNet) and shared with the JC.

The findings come amid concerns that the main civil servants’ trade union the Public and Commercial Services (PCS), has driven out Jewish members by taking a biased approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict and seeing Israel as a “universally malign entity”.

In a letter sent to PCS General Secretary Fran Heathcote, the JNet said its members found this “highly problematic” because many have close connections to Israel and are “deeply committed to a sustainable and just peace which recognises a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state”.

However, the letter goes on, “rather than bring people together and campaign for solutions to the conflict, PCS has continued to indulge in activism which seeks to prioritise one group’s legitimate claims over another’s – an approach which can only push away the cause of peace and inflame community tensions in the UK”.

As a result, “some Jewish civil servants have renounced their PCS membership as they do not feel PCS can represent them fairly. Others have stated that they would not consider joining PCS in light of its current approach to the conflict and to the Jewish community.”

But although the JNet first wrote to Heathcote on 20 February and then again in March, it has not received a reply.

MP Andrew Percy told the JC: "The union movement would be first to criticise any other form of workplace racism but when it comes to Jewish workers facing prejudice, too many of them are silent.

“This is the culmination of years, if not decades, of false narratives and open hate being peddled in hard left and left activist groups in relation to the Middle East.

“The result is that Jewish workers are less safe in many work places.”

The JNet represents 750 Jewish civil servants spread across 19 government departments and agencies, with Tamara Finkelstein, the network’s senior sponsor, who serves as permanent secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, among their number.

More than 120 members completed the survey. Some of its findings were positive, with 84 per cent of respondents saying the civil service was “a welcoming place for Jews” and 73 per cent that they felt comfortable telling colleagues they were Jewish and “discussing their Jewish identity in the workplace”.

However, nearly one in five people (17 per cent) said they would not feel comfortable doing this, and three per cent that they did not want their colleagues to know they were Jewish.

“Only 18 per cent feel that their Jewish identity has limited or would limit their chance of success in applying for any civil service role,” the JNet newsletter notes.

“However, 67 per cent feel that antisemitism is not well understood in the Civil Service, and that antisemitic comments or ideas would not be recognised as such. Fifty-five per cent do not feel confident that the department would investigate and sanction an allegation of antisemitism fairly.

“Sadly, 41 per cent of respondents said they have experienced or witnessed antisemitism in the Civil Service.”

The survey also found that 94 per cent of Jewish civil servants said they had been affected by the October 7 terrorist attacks and the ongoing war. More than half (58 per cent) felt they had been supported over this by their departments, but a fifth said “they did not feel supported at all”.

In their first letter to Heathcote, the JNet’s three co-chairs said they hoped that the union could be made “a more welcoming and inclusive place for all staff”, because many of the network’s members felt they were not being represented.

They cited a series of events, including an initial PCS statement after the October attacks that “after one line of condemnation for Hamas spent six blaming the State of Israel for the conflict”, despite the murders of 1,200 people, kidnapping of hostages and reports of sexual violence.

Subsequently, the letter went on, the PCS had called for a ceasefire without mentioning continued rocket attacks against Israel or the hostages and organised a protest on 29 November which “witnesses claimed featured antisemitic verbal abuse”.

“PCS’ lack of balance and arguably obsessive focus on the State of Israel as a universally malign entity is troubling, particularly in the context of the highest levels of antisemitism ever recorded in the UK and the innate vulnerability which can come with being Jewish,” the letter concluded. “We do not expect our unions to be freelancing with their own foreign policy, particularly one which drives a wedge between communities here in the UK.”

The JNet, which said it received no reply to its first letter, wrote to Heathcote again five weeks later, on 24 March, saying it was “disappointed” at the failure to respond, and noted that the PCS had condemned the temporary suspension of the Civil Service Muslim Network pending an investigation into claims that it had hosted events during which speakers had encouraged officials to lobby colleagues to change the government's policy on the conflict in Gaza.

This week it emerged that civil servants overseeing the export of arms to Israel are reportedly threatening legal action against the Government for fear they may be found to be in breach of international law over the war.

Officials within the Department for Business and Trade have raised concerns with senior civil servants that they may be personally liable if it is deemed that Israel has broken international humanitarian law over its actions in Gaza, according to the i newspaper.

PCS is said to be exploring whether it can bring a legal challenge against the Government to prevent its members carrying out work that could be deemed “illegal” in international law.

PCS did not respond to requests for comment.

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